An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Special Educational Needs
Ballincollig Community School,
Roll number: 91386O
Date of inspection: 10 and 11 March 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Special Educational Needs
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Ballincollig Community School, Co. Cork. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of learning and teaching in provision for special educational needs (SEN) and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of students with special educational needs in the school. The evaluation was conducted over two days during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and members of the school’s special educational needs support team. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Ballincollig Community School engages in many practices which support the principles of inclusion and which enhance the quality of learning for all of its students, including students with special educational needs. The school’s total allocation of 95 hours for provision for special educational needs is used appropriately. There is a considerable number of students with a wide range of needs presenting in the school, including students identified with low-incidence and high-incidence disabilities, students with learning-support needs and students requiring English language support. Two well-qualified teachers are at the heart of the school’s support team and are ably assisted by two other recently appointed colleagues who engage in delivering a programme that complements mainstream teaching. This programme of support operates on the basis of individual and small-group withdrawal. The decision to withdraw students from classes is made following consultation with students and their parents. Every effort is made to ensure that such decisions are made in the best interest of the student and that they don’t diminish a student’s future career choices. There are six fulltime special needs assistants appointed to the school and their contribution is duly acknowledged in this report. The school’s well organised provision is further enhanced by the appointment of a staff member who coordinates provision for students studying English as an additional language.
The school boasts considerable resources, including interconnecting resource rooms which are used to very good effect. Students’ work is featured prominently in the room, which assists in motivating students to achieve their best in an environment that promotes a sense of belonging and a sense of place. Information and communication technology (ICT) facilities are of a high standard and are used in a manner that supports learning and teaching. The school is encouraged to further examine how best to access and use online material and appropriate software packages.
An examination of school documentation reveals that students have access to a broad and balanced curriculum. Students are encouraged to participate in all aspects of school life including an extensive range of extracurricular and co-curricular activities. The school is appropriately flexible in the manner in which it responds to individual student needs. As a result of ongoing school self-evaluation and recommendations following external whole-school evaluation (2006), a core team of four teachers has been established to support student learning in the areas of literacy, mathematical development and subject-specific content. The school recognises the challenge of promoting and sustaining inclusive practices and correctly identifies the key role of the mainstream teacher through the adoption of such initiatives as a whole-school approach to literacy. In order to achieve such goals it is suggested that sharing of existing good practice be undertaken at subject department and whole-school level. The special educational needs support team members can play a key role in determining suitable resources and teaching methodologies through discussions with individual colleagues and subject departments. Where deemed appropriate, additional professional learning is accessible via the Special Educational Support Service website at www.sess.ie. A whole-school approach to literacy will also require an agreed definition of literacy which, as discussed, may include the promotion of oral and thinking skills. It will also be necessary to establish agreement around how best to test, retest and disseminate information to colleagues regarding the progress made in achieving agreed student learning outcomes.
The assigning of additional hours among the core support team has resulted in more effective, consistent and sustained provision of support for students. To further assist such good practice it is recommended that all known additional resource hours be factored into the timetable at the time of its construction. This will allow for a more efficient and effective commencement to the school year and also facilitate any future team-teaching arrangements.
Provision and whole-school support for students with special educational needs is of a high standard, and is organised in a manner that is systematic and yet flexible and responsive to individual needs. The two well-qualified established members of the support team have successfully inducted the newer members of the team. The ongoing training, combined interaction and reciprocal learning of all involved augurs well for the quality of future provision in the school.
Planning and preparation procedures are well advanced in the school and documented individual teacher’s short and long term planning was of a good standard and was clearly focused on student learning. At school level, the co-ordination of provision is administered by the two established members of the core support team. Appropriate time for planning and engaging in administrative duties relating to students with special educational needs is factored into the overall provision. In order to maximise the use of this allocated time, and to ensure its even distribution between the two co-ordinators, it is recommended that such provision for co-ordination be taken into account at the time of the construction of the overall school timetable. Similarly, such practice will assist with planning for the optimal deployment of special needs assistants.
The school’s special educational needs policy is a well-constructed document that gives due regard to the interdependent development of students’ cognitive and affective domains. The policy clearly documents the school’s effective transfer programme from primary schools and the role that individual planning has in ensuring that desired student learning outcomes are achieved. The policy states that inclusive education means ‘that all children and young people………….learn together in ordinary mainstream schools receiving appropriate networks of support’. As discussed, the role of the mainstream teacher is central to such ‘networks of support’ being successfully implemented. Ongoing developments relating to the established practice of individual educational plans will also assist in this regard, as will a clarification on how best to support collective action through the sharing of information that will inform teaching and promote learning. It is suggested that the recently published Department of Education and Science Inclusion of Students with Special Educational Needs Post-Primary Guidelines (2007) will assist such efforts.
The school is commended for its detailed register of students which is of a very high quality and ensures that allocated resources are directed towards the students for whom they were intended. It is noted that student voice and student achievement are also determining factors in choosing the type and length of any intervention. As discussed, and as mentioned previously in this report, the school has expressed an interest in examining the benefits that might accrue as a result of team-teaching, where two teachers work in the same classroom. Research suggests that such an intervention has many benefits and the school is encouraged to further examine the implementation of such a mode of delivery. It is suggested that the school may be best served by introducing such an initiative on a phased basis where desired student learning outcomes can be monitored. Future planning should also give due regard to providing for students who are deemed to be exceptionally able and gifted. While the school engages successfully in a variety of inclusive practices this is not always reflected in either the tone or content of the school’s admission policy which, in light of more recent legislation, merits review. The above mentioned DES guidelines may assist such a review.
Planning and preparation is long established in this school and is of a good standard. All involved are commended for their efforts to date and for the ongoing commitment to providing a quality education for all students in all classrooms in the school.
A total of ten lessons were observed during the course of the inspection. These lessons reflected the manner in which the resources were allocated among the four members of the special educational needs team, and focused upon individual and small-group withdrawal. The lessons were well planned and attended to specific learning needs, usually in the areas of literacy and mathematical development, while also facilitating access to the broader curriculum and subject-specific content. In general, students’ achievement was seen to be in keeping with their ability and student engagement was promoted by the good quality of teaching observed. Students with individual education plans (IEPs) were well catered for and the lessons used students’ strengths and interests to achieve the stated learning outcomes. As discussed, an extension of such practice to mainstream lessons would prove very beneficial.
Resources were used to good effect and the base classrooms allowed access to materials and facilitated seating arrangements that were conducive to learning and ensured participation by all. A notable feature of the lessons observed was the high level of teacher-student dialogue and students were encouraged to voice their opinions and express their preferred means of learning. To a lesser extent student-to-student dialogue was promoted. Where students were given an opportunity to engage directly with one another this usually proved very effective and had the combined effect of reinforcing and advancing student learning. In one lesson peer-correction and self-correction visibly ensured that effective learning took place as did the practice, in another class, where students were assisted in not only answering questions but also in framing questions.
The integration of thinking skills, teamwork and ICT was skilfully achieved in a number of lessons. Best practice witnessed teachers employing lower-order and higher-order questioning which drew upon students’ prior knowledge and promoted individual and whole-group learning. Good rapport and relations between teachers and students helped to promote a safe learning environment where all in the classroom, including special needs assistants, were treated respectfully. Praise and humour were used judiciously to motivate students and to keep students engaged. The use of ICT and the public display of students’ work on the classroom walls ensured that correction and subsequent redrafting was perceived by students as being relevant and important. Subsequently students were motivated to do their best and were made to feel valued members of the school community.
The quality of learning and teaching observed during the inspection was of a good standard. In light of this, teachers are encouraged to share their good practice with each other and with their colleagues, particularly in relation to promoting co-operative learning among students.
The school engages in a comprehensive range of assessment procedures. Students’ progress and achievement are communicated to home on a regular basis. Parents are facilitated, on request, to meet with teachers. Appropriate standardised and diagnostic tests are used to determine learning and inform teaching. Information drawn from assessments is appropriately used when students are transferring into the school and in turn, when students have completed their post-primary education and are preparing to transfer out of the school. Students’ progress is also assessed on a daily basis by subject teachers and by class-based examinations. Formal examinations take place at Christmas and summer. Students’ work is monitored, stored and used sensitively to assess and determine progress.
The good practice of retesting occurs in the area of literacy and the school is currently examining how best to track mathematical developments. The school has worked with the local NEPS psychologist in accessing up-to-date and user-friendly standardised tests and such good work will assist efforts to communicate individual and cohort progress to all staff. Tracking and presenting students’ progress in literacy and mathematical skills, combined with other student gains, will assist in encouraging and sustaining collaborative efforts by all the staff. Members of the special educational needs support team have recently engaged in the practice of presenting to colleagues and it is suggested that such good practice should be extended to facilitate sharing of assessment information, based on entire year groups or individual case studies.
Student participation and achievement in state examinations are rightfully a source of pride for all concerned. In consultation with the local NEPS psychologist, the school adopts a systematic approach to arranging reasonable accommodations in certificate examinations (RACE). Students are facilitated in becoming familiar with the relevant accommodation provided. It is noticeable that while academic expectations are high, they are transmitted in a way that is supportive and attends to individual student’s learning needs. Similarly student engagement and participation is valued and is given expression in the many awards that are presented and celebrated by the school.
A homework policy, which includes reference to students with special educational needs, is under consideration. It is recommended that such a policy would support a whole-school approach to the issuing, completion, correction and monitoring of homework. The policy should differentiate between ability levels and allow for various modes of presentation, assessment and feedback, as witnessed during the course of the visit. Students’ written work was found to be regularly corrected, on occasions signed and dated, and always with concluding comments to encourage students in their learning. Peer and self-correction was promoted in some classes and any future development of a homework and/or assessment policy should give due regard to such good practice.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the members of the school’s special educational needs support team and principal at the conclusion of the evaluation, when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, November 2008